England Arsene Wenger: Premier League pioneer

The last of Arsene Wenger's Premier League titles came in 2003-04 but the Arsenal manager's influence is writ large in England's top flight.

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In the aftermath of Arsenal's comprehensive 3-0 derby win over Chelsea last weekend, Arsene Wenger did not sound like a man simply content with overcoming regular tormentors who soiled a previous landmark for him two-and-a-half years ago.

Basel were subsequently dispatched 2-0 in the Champions League in midweek and on Saturday the 66-year-old Frenchman will mark 20 years in charge of the north London club.

"I'm hungrier now than I was because I know I have not got 20 more years in front of me," he said after beating the club who dished out a 6-0 thumping at Stamford Bridge in 2014, turning his 1000th match in charge into a vicious nightmare.

"I also feel a responsibility. You can't be 20 years somewhere and not care, so I'm more conscious now about what Arsenal is all about, and I feel the weight of keeping people happy." 

It is not a weight his spindly frame has borne too well over recent years, with petulant fan outcry and the "Wenger Out" brigade a guaranteed presence whenever Arsenal falter.

The narrative arc of Wenger's time at Arsenal seems unlikely to deviate now – those glorious, swashbuckling early years where "Boring, Boring Arsenal" were recalibrated by Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and the "va va voom" of invincibility, unfortunately giving way to unwavering style without the substance of regular major honours.

Too often, Wenger has appeared at once trapped within and comforted by his own reality of beautiful football and arguments with Tony Pulis, while others have gone about the business of league titles.

Perhaps the irony here – and certainly one Arsenal fans are unlikely to welcome – is the Premier League is now so hard to win because of one man who raised standards and broadened horizons within the English game, encouraging the very best to prove their credentials there.

That man was Arsene Wenger.

October 1996 was four years on from the often-implied "Year Zero" for English football – when Division One became the Sky Sports-endorsed jamboree of the Premier League for 1992-93 – but it took the unlikely figure of Wenger, dressed as he was in the manner of a physics teacher with an overly generous tailor, to steer it towards being the lavishly stocked galaxy of multinational stars we know today.

The first genuine influx of continental Europe's finest talents began after the 1994 World Cup, although the dugout remained a different story.

Arsenal's neighbours Tottenham had given their former Argentina international Ossie Ardiles the managerial reigns prior to Wenger's arrival, but his desire to play more or less everyone up front brought about uneven results and his own downfall.

Spurs would subsequently seek their own Wenger in the form of Christian Gross, whose standout contribution in England remains brandishing London Underground tickets with unbridled enthusiasm.

In between those dalliances, Tottenham reverted to Gerry Francis, who but offered a fine representation of the managerial landscape Wenger entered.

Aside from Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit, all his Premier League counterparts in 1996 were British or Irish. Francis, along with the likes of Joe Kinnear, Ron Atkinson, Frank Clark and Harry Redknapp were no-nonsense men of the old-school. Pints and percentages, not pressing and philosophy.

Wenger changed things for all of them and their predecessors – even his great rival Alex Ferguson, who already had one of the great British footballing dynasties in operation.

His domineering 1990s Manchester United were from the lineage of Shankly and Clough – inspired tactical sharpness, fearsome motivational skill and a keen nose for the moments that win matches.

Nevertheless, Ferguson would probably never have dreamed of signing Juan Sebastian Veron to play as floating number 10 in European matches without first marvelling at the fluid brilliance of Arsenal's attack under Wenger.

Veron was a stellar import who failed, but by that stage at the start of the 21st century there were always plenty more on the way – on and off the pitch.

If Jose Mourinho ever makes good on his purported desire to punch Wenger in the face, he should first thank his adversary for opening up the career path that brought such musings to a wider audience.

Before 1996, when Mourinho was on the staff at Barcelona, it is safe to assume few Camp Nou coaches would have viewed a job in England as a step up from Porto.

It turns out it was and it still is because Wenger convinced the cream of international coaching talent to try and emulate his Premier League feats, while persuading chairman and owners they were worth a punt.

As he looks up at Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino in the Premier League table this weekend, and Jurgen Klopp alongside him, Wenger might not thank himself too much. All the rest of us should.

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